5 Places to Find Big Bucks During the Rut
The rut is the most exciting and frustrating time of the year to whitetail hunt. New bucks show up. Monsters you didn’t know were there pop up, and the big bucks you had on camera can disappear. Not all places to find big bucks are created equal. Anything can happen at the drop of a hat if you are in the right place. But if you aren’t in the right place, you can be spending hours scrolling through old trail camera photos and dreaming about what could be while seeing nothing or little bucks you don’t want to shoot.
Mature bucks may share some of their territory with smaller bucks, but they do have some distinguishing traits with where they spend most of their time and where they feel comfortable. We will mostly focus on bedding and cover areas because this is where mature bucks will spend most of their time. These are the best places to find big bucks during the rut.
Breaking Down the Best Places to Find Big Bucks
A funny story to preface this. As a child, my family moved about nine hours from where I was born. The night before leaving, I fell asleep laying on my belly across the top of five-gallon buckets that had my dad’s carpentry tools poking out the top. Now, I would never try that as a place to sleep. In the same way, as mature bucks get older they won’t go to the places that small bucks are willing to hang out.
The biggest mistake I have seen myself and other hunters make is hunting where we think we have an opportunity, but not where our target deer actually is. I’ve found myself a few hundred yards outside of the action too often to count, and that’s what I want to save you from. When I made the change, I started seeing more big bucks, and they were comfortable. Scouting plays into this, but if you are looking for places to find big bucks during the rut this year, this is the right post.
This post is based on studies and historical observations of mature bucks during the rut. It outlines some of the best places to find big bucks. Areas that you can locate now and focus your late-season archery hunting on throughout the whitetail rut.
Big Bucks and Overgrown Christmas Tree Plots
Some of the biggest bucks I have seen and harvested came out of stands of overgrown Christmas trees. These areas are usually found on old farms that have been left unattended. What I have found to be especially good is a stand of trees that is surrounded on three sides by thick underbrush or unmowed grass, with one side open to a food plot or mowed hay field.
The question could be asked, “Why is this such a great place for big bucks?”
Without question, overgrown Christmas trees create a dense shelter from the weather, but they also provide excellent cover because visibility is so heavily restricted. This means they can be out the other side when they hear you walking without you knowing they are there.
I generally find that large bucks bed on the edge of the stand of trees in tall grass, or under a small bunch of evergreens just separated from the main stand. Access is important. Poor access guarantees poor results when hunting mature deer, especially in overgrown Christmas trees.
Mature Bucks Bedding in Blowdowns
Almost every hunter has heard a story from someone about jumping a big buck out of his bed near a blowdown. It’s a distinct pattern that I have noticed. If there is an area on the property you hunt with multiple blowdowns and some grassy or brushy cover, it’s a place you should pay close attention to in the rut.
Blowdowns can range from a treetop that broke off in a storm, to a tree that fell over, tree tops left after harvesting trees, or a branch that broke and fell. Any number of which provide ideal archery hunting locations for mature bucks.
Fresh blowdowns provide a food source in addition to excellent cover. It makes for the perfect buck bedding areas. Bucks generally bed with their back into the wind, and watch their back trail. This means if you are walking straight into the wind to get to the area they will likely pick you out. They will also normally bed on the downwind side of cover.
A dynamite location for a hunt would be a large overgrown field with blowdowns in it. If you get to one of these areas, you will at some point find deer going in to bed down. Places to find big bucks like these are all day hangouts, so be prepared to get out of the tree and put a well thought stalk together after watching the buck bed.
Big Bucks and Bushy Hilltops
You will notice that there is a pattern in this post, BRUSH. It’s a fact, mature bucks will hang out in some nasty stuff to stay out of harm’s way. Not all brush is created equal. This is where the journaling feature in the TrophyTracks hunting app comes in handy to help track and identify trends. When you see deer spending lots of time in one kind of brush compared to another, make note of it. You can use that info to help you dial in on new high probability areas.
Brush Types to Focus On in the Rut
The type of brush mature bucks feel comfortable in is usually thick enough that you can only see about 20-30 feet, but it is not a uniform wall of brush. There will be patchy areas where there is more brush than others which creates small transition paths that the buck will travel on.
I’ve seen this hunting deep in the mountains where thick mountain laurel thrives. Many of these mature mountain deer will spend their entire lives in an expansive ridgetop and know every in and out. They also will know how to avoid you if your access is poor, which is again why planning your access is so important.
The Rut Setup
Finding a defined trail in one of these thick brushy areas will likely be shortly followed by finding rubs and scrapes. You should focus on setting up on the outer edges, or in short bottle necks where the buck will be visible moving from one thick area into the beginning of the other. Using the map feature in TrophyTracks will allow you to pinpoint a few places that bucks will move from one thick area to another.
Rutting Monsters in Swamps and River Bottoms
Swamps and river bottoms have long been known for their potential to hold big bucks. All of the necessary conditions for good habitat are met in these areas, so you are likely to find sign and get pictures of big bucks. In these areas the “hot spot” will be a pinch point where the river or swamp gets close to the edge of the woods with bedding on both sides of a semi thick movement corridor, directly adjacent to a field on the uphill side.
One note on these areas, some creeks and rivers that have lots of water noise seem to be less productive, but a slow flowing quiet stream or river almost always has good deer habitat around it.
The point here is that going into the swamp may not be in the best interest of your hunt, or at least future hunts. If you have a buck pinpointed in the swamp with good access then by all means go for it. Hunting just outside of the swamp where you are inside his core area, but not in his bedroom, will be a go too when the conditions are right.
Places to Find Big Bucks in Swamps and River Bottoms
Inside of TrophyTracks Pro you have the prediction tool that will show you probability percentages based on historical movement data. Using this tool will help eliminate guesswork.
Inside swamps look for areas with relatively higher ground. These are more likely to be used for bedding. Setting up downwind of one of these raised areas for a morning sit will give you better odds for a few reasons. Bucks usually circle downwind of their bedding areas if they are planning to bed. Also a mature buck on the move will travel downind of a doe bedding area tho scent check for a doe in estrus.
Find a hill with a trail downwind and you have found the first piece in setting yourself up for success.
Bruisers Cruising Down Wind Of Bedding Benches
Once again using a buck’s tendency to come into a bedding area from down wind, we have the advantage on a morning hunt when we set up down wind from a bedding bench on a hillside. If you spend quite a bit of time on a property you will notice places that deer normally like to bed. Especially on south facing hillsides, these morning setups are a great place to spend some time in a tree.
Look for a thick bedding area with a semi thick movement corridor downwind, bucks will cruise this hillside checking for does throughout the rut. It is one of the best places to find big bucks during the rut.
One note, pay attention to the thermals. Mature bucks will, so you should too. Thermal activity can really mess up a hunt if you are not paying attention to it. Generally in the morning thermals will carry your odor up, while in the evening they will carry your scent down. If you are in a tree uphill of the bedding area in the morning, it may be best to pull out midday and reset downhill in the evening.
Historical thermal activity can be journaled in TrophyTracks to help you remember what to expect at each stand location every day. In addition, buck beeding areas can be noted and referenced for future archery hunts.
Planning Puts You in the Right Places to Find Big Bucks
During the rut, don’t be afraid to change stand locations based on current activity. I’ve had many hunts that would have ended in a harvest if I had moved to where I saw deer moving earlier on in the day. Planning gets you into the action, but don’t be afraid to make some changes on the go. I have literally watched my target buck walk under a stand I could have been in if I had moved a few hours before after I saw a small buck chase a doe under it.
Small bucks will direct you to where the action is. If they all end up going in one direction, that is where the action is happening. You need to move or you will keep seeing little bucks and miss out. When the opportunity arises don’t be afraid to make a tactical move to get into a place so you will be able to make a shot.
Best Places to Find Big Bucks in Your Pocket
TrophyTracks is here to help hunters be more knowledgeable and more successful. Our hunting app unlocks the power of historical records that help you predict the future. Unlike other apps, any information that helps you close the deal or get in range of a mature whitetail (or any animal) can be logged so you don’t forget. Our share feature enables easy mentorship and information transfer between hunting buddies to help everyone be more successful. Be sure to get your free download and start connecting the dots.
Guest Post by Evan Grimm
Evan Grimm is an outdoor content writer who dives deep into topics to produce informative and practical content. He is a TrophyTracks user and contributor, the owner of ETHIC Digital Products, and is heavily involved in non-profit ministry where he and his family now reside in Alaska.